This is the first in-depth look on CD of the high quality output of the SSS International Group run by Shelby Singleton out of Nashville, Tennessee. Shelby had his greatest commercial success with Jeannie C Riley's Harper Valley PTA so it comes as no surprise that his musical tastes veered towards the country side of soul, which, as any self respecting soul fan will know, is the essence of Southern soul. Revered soul artists like Bettye LaVette, Johnny Adams and Sam Dees were taken into the great studios of Muscle Shoals, Memphis and Nashville in the late 1960s/early 1970s and came up with many classic Southern and deep soul tracks.
Miss LaVette is a Detroit bred, big city girl but the gritty downhome singing on the churning He Made A Woman Out Of Me gives the impression that she is a natural talent raised back in the southern backwoods. It should have been a much bigger hit than #25 R&B. Johnny Adam's was a singer's singer who had the ability to astound with the incredible range and depth of his vocals, yet he rarely ventured outside his native New Orleans. Shelby saw his potential however and was rewarded when Reconsider Me went Top 10 R&B and Top 30 Pop. Sam Dees is at his best on his self-penned songs, but as the grooving Lonely For You Baby (his first ever recording) shows, he is well able to interpret material from other songwriters. Thankfully we don't get any of Peggy Scott and Jo Jo Benson's teen angst hits but instead are treated to their more adult cuts including a killer solo track by Scott, You Can Never Get Something For Nothing.
Artists like Big John Hamilton (a personal favourite), Doris Allen, Danny White, Eddie Giles and Reuben Bell are less known, but no less revered. Soul connoisseurs consider Hamilton's tortured vocals on How Much Can A Man Take and Allen's emotive A Shell Of A Woman classic examples of the Southern Soul genre. Also worth a mention is Hamilton's sublime I'm Getting It From Her which up to now was only available on a rare Japanese Album. Giles and Bell will be familiar to those wise enough to invest in "Shreveport Southern Soul - The Murco Story" (CDKEND 178) and the cuts here probably failed to chart only because of the plethora of talent around at that time.
Compilation releases like this present an ideal opportunity to highlight tracks by artists who may have recorded only one or two 45s in their entire "career", and Gable Reed's sparse, bluesy I'm Your Man is one such solid outing worthy of your attention. Better still is the stirring I Can't Use You by mystery duo Double Soul, but best of the lot (and a contender for track of the CD) is the heart-wrenching Everybody's Clown with its great lyrics and suitably despairing vocals by the terminally obscure Johnny Dynamite. No commercial success was forthcoming. However, other shadowy singers did have hits, like George Perkins with the anguished civil rights anthem Cryin' In The Streets and Calvin Leavy's equally despairing soul-blues of Cummins Prison Farm.
It's not all suicidal stuff, though. For example, listen to the bright, stomping Mama's Got The Wagon by Mickey Murray and Dancing To The Beat by his brother Clarence Murray.
I can't praise this release highly enough. I know compilers John "nice production!" Broven, John "have you heard this one?" Ridley and Richard "lovely bluesy ballad" Tapp have spent months agonising over the track selections. Slot in Mr Ridley's excellent liner notes - plus an affectionate introduction by SSS songwriter Margaret Lewis - and it all adds up to a package that will appeal to the legions of fans of Dave Godin's "Deep Soul Treasures" series and Kent's other outstanding Southern Soul releases such as "The Dial Records Southern Soul Story" (CDKEND 223). I hear there is enough top quality material for at least one further SSS volume. Meanwhile, one to treasure.
BY MARTIN GOGGIN Juke Blues
Label courtesy of John Ridley